With wintry weather on their heels, area PennDOT crews lined up their trucks in Butler on Thursday to prepare for snow.
Every year, county-level Pennsylvania Department of Transportation branches must bring in DOT equipment managers from nearby counties to inspect their fleet of vehicles. Todd Gabriel, Butler County's equipment manager, said they began preparing for the inspection on Oct. 15.
“It sets the tone for the winter,” Gabriel said. “It's a good measuring point to see how we're stacking up.”
Butler County is in PennDOT's District 10, so inspectors arrived from Armstrong, Clarion, Indiana and Jefferson counties. This year, Butler County was the last to go through the inspection process.
It couldn't have waited a moment longer. As they awaited the inspection, DOT staff spent much of Thursday morning preparing for forecasts of snow that evening and overnight.
Usually, Gabriel said, they have a little more time between getting their fleet approved and sending it out on its first deployment.
“The weather is coming for us a little quicker this year,” he said. “We'll make sure we have every piece where it needs to be.”
Mike Mattis, the county PennDOT manager, echoed Gabriel.
“We have the equipment and manpower to fight anything we need to,” Mattis said.
Thursday's inspection included 44 trucks. The department regularly uses 42, but keeps two backups on standby.
Those trucks operate out of eight locations countywide. Together, a team of 85 truck operators uses those vehicles to plow and clear about 1,600 miles of state roads in Butler County. They hire 16 seasonal operators to work the winter and are currently hiring.
The department has 13,000 tons of salt in storage and ready for the winter. That's its maximum capacity. It uses about 27,000 tons of salt each winter.
Plows run in two shifts, unless a major storm demands 24-hour coverage. The first shift runs from 4 a.m. to noon. The second shift takes over until 8 p.m.
A team of eight mechanics keeps the trucks operating, Mattis said.
“Our mechanics do a wonderful job, and they get the trucks back out in the field very quickly,” Mattis said.
Mattis said there were some upsides to their trucks getting an immediate field test after the inspection. Real-world work tends to reveal potential problems that an in-shop reveal might miss.
Midway through the inspection, Gabriel said the inspection so far had only turned up some minor needs on a few trucks.
Now that snow plows are soon to be clearing roads and spreading salt mixes, Mattis said it's a good time to review winter driving safety.
You should never pass a snow plow, he said. The plows tend to stick out into the neighboring lane, and the roads in front of the machines aren't yet treated and cleared.
Residents wondering where plows are can check 511pa.com. Clicking the box to enable “PennDOT Plow Trucks” makes the trucks appear on the website's map. Their locations are updated live via cell signals.